What People Have Said About Gerry's Music:
“It would not be an understatement to say that Gerry has a wide-ranging approach to playing piano. Few pianists can play jazz and classical music equally well and with their own musical personality. He is an expressive classical musician who puts plenty of feeling into his thoughtful renditions of classics. He is also an excellent jazz artist with his own sound who gives popular compositions the same respect that he does the classical works while displaying the freedom to make the songs his own. Gerry is a talent well worth discovering.”
-- Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author
“I really like what you’re doing musically.”
-- Kenny Burrell, jazz legend
“Gerry’s conflation of classical training and jazz intuition has enabled him to indulge his keen understanding of counterpoint, structure, harmony and the arc of musical narrative . . . His improvisations are lovely and mood changing. His interesting use of registration and voice leading successfully connects the musical dots . . .”
-- Daniel Kepl, orchestra conductor & classical music critic
“Gerry’s subtle mastery is a delightful journey of compelling ideas and soulful passion. Bravo!! We want more.”
-- Bob Johnson, CEO, BlackLight Entertainment
“Your music is beautiful.”
-- Mary Mazur, Chief Operating Officer, KCET public television
“Great work in the studio today; it's such a pleasure working with a pro like you!”
-- Mia Riverton, BDC Films
“What wonderful, evocative music. You are terrific, not to mention versatile . . . from Brubeck to Chopin . . . I love it!”
-- Angela Shelley, Real Life Productions
“We love listening to Gerry's CDs when we cater and travel from one location to another. Tender, warm, kind, subtle . . . wonderful CDs!”
-- Atsumi and Allie, LA Cravers Catering
“Thank you for the amazing talent you shared with us. We were all truly blessed . . . and entertained . . . You were the frosting on a beautiful cake.”
-- Laura Thompson, President, Pasadena Museum of History; CEO, Your Great Event
“I really loved your music. I thought it was the best music I ever heard. I’m glad I got to hear you. The reason I tipped you is because I really liked your music. I will never ever forget your great music. And again I really loved your music.”
-- Katherine S., an 11-year-old fan
“Just as I was leaving work, I received a beautiful gift from Gerry Bryant, his latest CD. Naturally, the first thing I did when I got to my car was to put it on for my drive home. The music that filled the car took me away. I was transcended from my daily commute. By the time I realized that my autopilot had been hijacked, I had already missed my exit! Of course I was happy to take the Interpretations musical journey in exchange for an altered route home.”
-- Kathleen Abing, KCET On-Air Promo Producer
“I really love your CDs. I haven't stopped listening. . . It's been the soundtrack of my life. I also really like your own compositions. What a virtuoso you are!”
-- Corbett Barklie, Arts Consultant/Producer
“. . . so heartfelt. . .”
Exclusive Q&A with Harvard grad Gerry Bryant (composer, pianist)
Q: You have a new album, The Composers, coming out this month that features Black classical composers who have been overlooked throughout history. What was the research and selection process like for finding and choosing who would be included on the album?
I found it ironic that not only have many if not most people I’ve spoken to been unaware of the existence of immensely talented Black classical music composers in our nation’s history -- which not very favorably speaks to our country’s educational system in general and in particular to our society’s lack of recognition of the contributions of groups other than white males, i.e., minorities, women, and other groups – but neither had I, and I have been an aspiring concert pianist and composer since I was ten! And I’m Black as well! Go figure. . .
Q: The album features the works of Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, a slave who was perhaps the first Black American classical music composer, and Florence Price, whom you’ve listed as one of your favorite composers. Are there any other composers on this album you’d like to highlight or talk about?
This album is intended to be the first volume of a series featuring Black classical composers. Indeed, I’m working on the second volume as we speak, but who knows when that will ever be completed! My original intent was to have one or two compositions by up to a dozen amazing composers on each album, but once I found out about “Blind Tom”, whose story is fascinating, I knew I wanted to include more than just two of his compositions. Even more tellingly, once I learned more about Florence Price and heard her music, I immediately fell in love with her work and knew that there were many more works of hers than just one or two I wanted to record. So, this first volume of The Composers consists of four selections by “Blind Tom” and eleven selections by Florence Price. In fact, whilst the second volume of The Composers will most likely include compositions by six or more other composers, I will also include an amazing string arrangement by my violinist extraordinaire friend Mark Cargill of a major violin and piano composition by Ms. Price that I was unable to include on this first album.
Q: You’ve recorded and independently distributed a dozen albums, each containing classical music, some of your original music, some jazz, and some reimagined pop cover tunes. What led to the release of this album on the Parma Recording’s Navona label?
I had participated in an online seminar on the long overdue but welcome efforts being made by classical music radio stations to increase the diversity of their playlists by including composers and performers, past and present, who are Black, Hispanic, women, etc., who have been sorely underrepresented in such playlists. One of the online seminar participants, who is also part of those efforts, was Bob Lord, CEO of Parma. I later contacted him directly, applauded him and the others he has been partnering with for their efforts, and mentioned my The Composers project. He expressed interest in my album, and one thing led to another, so they will be releasing the album on their label this month.
Q: Your career has been extremely multi-faceted; not only are you a classically trained pianist and composer, but you also have your J.D. and an M.B.A, and you’ve done lots of arts advocacy and volunteer work. If you could go back, is there anything you would change or do differently in your career path?
Well, I never intended to do -- or even thought about doing – any of the things you’ve mentioned other than to simply play the piano and compose! I did decide to become a lawyer in the entertainment business – my own lawyer, mind you, not a lawyer for anyone else! – so that I would learn and know the business of music well and not get ripped off, as many musicians and artists do when they blindly enter into contracts without knowing better or consulting a trusted, knowledgeable and experienced attorney. I’ve since learned that what I accomplished – getting a J.D. and an M.B.A. simultaneously, working for a noted entertainment law firm, participating in seminars and workshops on the industry, etc., was total overkill. I didn’t need to do all of that. I really only needed to acquire a basic knowledge of how things work in the arts and entertainment industry and then surround myself with a team of individuals – lawyers, agents, managers, publicists -- who were deeply knowledgeable and believed in me and my music and whom I trusted. The time I spent pursuing all of the industry-specific business education I acquired, especially in the arduous J.D./M.B.A. program I went through, could have been more productively spent specifically on my music, practicing, composing, gigging, etc. But as I look back, and to answer your question whether there is anything I would change if I had to do it over again, not really. All of my experiences contributed to what made me the person I am today and to the music that I create.
Q: Classical music sometimes gets a reputation for being. . . well, archaic. How do you think we can generate excitement about classical works, particularly for younger audiences, when it comes to music education?
Appreciating and enjoying “serious” music like classical music and jazz first involves being exposed to it. Ideally, that would come at an early age through our educational system, but arts and music education programs and funding have decreased dramatically since I was a child. The way to expose our youth to such artistic pursuits nowadays is to reach them where they spend most of their time, which is on social media. Indeed, according to recent studies, young people engage with orchestral and classical music more on social media than in the classroom, especially on TikTok, which is helping to discover the next general of young classical talent and is filled with classical music stars. TikTok creators have taken the medium and invented their own ways of enjoying music, including classical music. So up next for me is to establish a presence on TikTok!
Q: Who are your top five favorite composers to listen to and/or play?
That’s an easy question. I am a true romantic at heart -- musically and socially speaking -- and my favorite composers are those of the Romantic Era, i.e., Chopin (who tops the list), Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and now, though she wasn’t of that particular era, Florence Price.
Q: Your last album, Besotted, contains a classical x swing jazz x gospel reimagining of Katy Perry's “California Girls”. What do you think is the value or importance of reimagining and infusing different musical styles together?
That’s a good question. For me, my music is a reflection of my overall life experiences and my arts and musical educational upbringing, all of which are varied, eclectic, and broad ranging. With my love for all genres of music, it is only natural that my music, whether my original compositions or my recordings of cover songs that end up being reimagined versions of the versions by the original artists, speaks to me and is an honest reflection of how I envision the piece. I couldn’t mimic or recreate any cover song if I tried, and not that I’d ever want to. I think in general that is what all artists do. Artists take something that inspires them to create their art, be it a landscape, a person, an event, a photo, an idea, whatever, and what they create reflects all of the elements of their life experiences and training I just mentioned.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring young musicians and artists?
Two things. First, always keep working at your art, continue to learn from the art and approach of other artists who came before you, and don’t get discouraged. Second, make it a point to become educated about the legal and business aspects of your art. Most artists have little or no knowledge or understanding of what is involved in having their art distributed, promoted, exhibited, or “exploited” as lawyers say, leaving them vulnerable to being taken advantage of or to entering into unfavorable business relationships. Knowledge is the key to everything and to ensuring an artist’s ultimate success with their art. Joining and taking advantage of the legal, educational and dispute resolution services of an organization such as California Lawyers for the Arts, whose mission is to educate and empower artists of all disciplines, is a good way to start. And of course, Harvardwood is also a valuable organization for assisting artists in navigating the business components of their creative careers.
Q: What is your favorite piece on your new album?
I have two by Ms. Price: the second movement of her “Sonata in E Minor”, and “Andante Con Espressione”, a lovely violin and piano piece with violinist Mark Cargill. If our readers are so inclined and I can put in a plug for it, I encourage them to view the YouTube video of us performing the piece.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
“Free time”?? LOL. What is that?
Gerry’s album, The Composers, will be officially released on Parma Recordings’ Navona label and available on all platforms on January 13, 2022. Until then, you can stream and download it on Bandcamp.
Alumni Profile: Gerry Bryant (Concert Pianist / Arts & Entertainment Attorney)
by Sophie Kim AB '24
Author Sophie Kim is an award-winning playwright, performance poet, filmmaker, and author of the poetry collection, SING THE BIRDS HOME (2019, Penmanship Books). Kim served as the 2018-2019 Los Angeles County Youth Poet Laureate, is currently writing an original musical that will premiere this April, and has worked on multiple theater productions at Harvard; find Kim at thesophiekim.com.
At age ten, Gerry Bryant knew he wanted to be a concert pianist. More specifically, Bryant started piano lessons at ten years old, and it all took off from there. He went on to study music, graduate cum laude from both Phillips Andover Academy and Harvard, and receive both his J.D. and M.B.A. from UCLA. A classical concert pianist by training, Bryant also plays in PocketWatch, a musical group he founded, he volunteers for multiple nonprofit arts organizations, and he is also currently the Director of Legal and Business Affairs for Southern California’s PBS stations KCET and PBS So Cal (KOCE).
Bryant grew up in a self-described poor family in Cleveland, where classical music was not something he was exposed to. However, he was immediately drawn to it, describing a field trip to Severance Hall in Cleveland, home of the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra. His family didn’t have a piano, but his grandmother had an old piano. “She didn't play but she sang in church. And whenever we would go to my grandparents' house, I would sit down at the piano and, at ten years old, I’d just pick things out,” Bryant said. When they noticed his talent, his parents arranged to provide him with lessons, and it was years later that Bryant would learn about the sacrifices his family made, with his father working extra jobs, to pay for the lessons.
However, Bryant didn’t always find an audience in his community. He recounted a story when, at twelve or thirteen years old, some adult relatives and neighbors were gathered at their family home. Someone asked his mother if he would play a song, and she told Bryant, who reluctantly agreed. “So I sit down at the piano, I open up my classical music -- it was probably Bach or Beethoven or something -- and I play my little heart out. After I finish playing, there's dead silence. And finally, one of the adults says, “Uh, okay, boy, that was great, but now play some real music.” They basically could not relate to classical music at all; they wanted to hear some blues or R&B because that's the environment that I grew up in,” Bryant said.
Bryant always knew he wanted a career in music. However, he pursued a law degree and an MBA because he believed that understanding the music business from a legal/business perspective would be essential to building his artistic career and ensure that he could protect himself and his art. At Harvard, he majored in sociology and minored in music, with an eye towards law and business school. When not studying, he spent his time playing keyboards and accompanying singers at off-campus nightclubs alongside professional musicians and fellow Harvard students, in the process adding other musical genres to his musical repertoire, not just classical music.
Fresh out of law and business school, Bryant started working in the music division of a major L.A. law firm, becoming, along with another Harvard grad, the first Black attorneys to work there. However, looking back on his pursuit of a J.D. and an M.B.A. and his time as a lawyer first “learning the business”, Bryant called his actions “total overkill”. He emphasized that it is much more important for artists to simply surround themselves with a knowledgeable team, including a lawyer, that the artist trusts and can rely on.
He says he never intended to be a lawyer for anyone other than himself, but nowadays Bryant utilizes his knowledge of the law to help advocate for other artists through California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA), a statewide nonprofit organization founded in 1974 that provides legal referrals, education and other services to artists. Bryant has been on CLA’s board of directors for more than twenty years. He emphasized the importance of empowering artists, and highlighted the organization’s ability to provide exceptional but otherwise expensive education and legal referral services more cheaply through grants and donations. “I've been on the board of CLA for as long as I have because its mission aligns exactly with my mission and my goal, not only for myself, but mainly for everyone else, for all other creative people. I want to empower and educate other creative people so that they can do their art, which enhances, entertains and inspires all of our lives,” Bryant said.
PocketWatch, the contemporary melodic jazz group which he founded when he went to UCLA, exclusively plays Bryant’s compositions, which are rhapsodic pieces that combine classical music and jazz elements. Bryant enjoys the teamwork and the act of striving toward a common goal that interacting with the members of his group provides. The name derives from Bryant’s love for wearing pocket watches.
While Bryant has found success as a solo musician, playing gigs in venues large and small on both coasts, the most rewarding experiences he has had, he says, come from volunteering to play piano for patients at the UCLA Medical Center, which he did weekly for many years. Patients would often come up to him during and after performances crying or offering their personal stories around the music he had played. Why? His answer is simple: “Music is healing”. In one instance, a woman screamed and ran up to him during a performance. The song he was playing was the same one that played during her wedding, and with her husband being in the hospital at that time, Bryant’s rendition had made her emotional.
Bryant also reflected on how COVID has affected his artistic practice. Even though he noted that many people have been going “stir-crazy” in quarantine, he says he hasn’t been as affected as others because he actually prefers working alone. Indeed, he simply continues to “woodshed”, a musician’s term for isolating yourself to practice and focus on your music. However, he has been unable to perform live gigs and promote his music as much as he’d like to, and he dearly misses performing live and interacting with audiences.
Bryant has released eleven CDs, many critically acclaimed, which include classical music, his own compositions, and even reimagined musical covers of other artists. His twelfth CD, “Besotted,” will be released in the near future. On it, he covers, among other songs, “California Girls” by Katy Perry, her pop hit which he reimagines first as a classical piece followed by segments of swing jazz and gospel. He is currently working on a CD devoted to Black classical composers who have been overlooked throughout history. The CD will include works by, among others, Blind Tom, a slave who was the first Black American classical composer. You can find more about Bryant's work at www.gerrybryant.com.
Gerry's Music Gets Awards by Design:
Not just great music but award-winning packaging too! The music of three of Gerry’s CDs, “Besotted”, “Somewhere In My Imagination” and “Chasing the Clouds Away”, inspired the graphic design firm of Slick+Slicker, together with illustrator Valerie Hennessy (both of whom design and create the artwork, respectively, for all of Gerry’s CDs), to come up with designs that won the prestigious Graphic Design USA packaging award for those CDs. Congrats to them!
Excerpt From UCLA Medical Center Auxiliary and Volunteer News, "Musicians With A Caring Heart":
"If you have ever wandered the hallways of the 200 Medical Plaza Building on a Monday or Tuesday afternoon, more than likely you were treated to the lovely music of volunteer . . . Gerry Bryant . . . [an] exceptional volunteer who donate[s his] time and talent to the patients of the 200 Medical Plaza. It is [his] hope that [his] music will brighten the days of the people visiting the building, while also teaching an appreciation for fine music. . . .
"Gerry Bryant, more commonly known as the "Piano Man," exudes a special warmth and exuberance while playing the piano for the patients at the 200 Medical Plaza. Each [Monday] and Wednesday, Gerry plays an arrangement of music including jazz, classical, and even popular tunes for the many passersby and regulars that come to hear him. . . .
"Above all, music is what is important to Gerry and being able to share his talent and ability with others is a true gift. Often times Gerry will be accompanied at the piano by an impromptu vocalist who becomes inspired by his music. Other times, Gerry will play special children's songs to a young audience. Most of all, he creates many smiles on the faces of people as they enjoy his music."
Article from UCLA Magazine:
| alumni profile |
GERRY BRYANT J.D. '81, M.B.A. '81
Counselor at the keyboard
As Gerry Bryant was playing "God Bless the Child" on the piano in the lobby of UCLA's 200 Medical Plaza Building, a man behind him with a good voice started singing along to the soulful Billie Holiday number. It was David Crosby, the folk rocker who had previously received a liver transplant there.
Afterward, the two started chatting. "The whole conversation
was about how important music is to life and one's health, and that he was glad to hear some good music being played in the hospital." Bryant says.
Having performed with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Les McCann and Carl Anderson, Bryant is equally pleased to spend two or three afternoons a week as one of 10 volunteers who regularly entertain UCLA patients waiting for their medical appointments.
Bryant's eclectic repertoire for the Medical Center over the last year has brought a similarly diverse range of reactions. One woman started screaming when he played her favorite song just after she learned of her long-awaited pregnancy, and a man asked the pianist if he would play a little night music at his ladies-of-the-night establishment.
The West Los Angeles-area resident has been at the keyboard since his boyhood in Cleveland, first taking up classical and then jazz piano, and playing professionally by the time he was a teenager. Yet he was still able to dedicate himself to academics, graduating cum laude from both Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, and Harvard University, and going on to receive his joint UCLA degrees.
Bryant was drawn to law and business in part so that he could handle his own contracts and produce his own records. His first CD, recorded with his group, Pocketwatch, is expected to be released by spring 2000. Corporations, other musicians and artists are among Bryant's legal clients, and he serves on the board of California Lawyers for the Arts. In between, he writes a column on real-estate law for the Los Angeles Daily Commerce and has acted in more than 30 episodes of Divorce Court.
But making music remains the high note of his life. "When you know that you've really touched someone, there's no greater feeling in the world." Bryant says.
— Robin Heffler